If you feel like anxiety among teens is rampant, you’re right.
As a therapist, I can tell you that one of the most common situations I encounter is guiding parents who are searching for ways to help their kids deal with anxiety. So, if you’re in this boat, you’re not alone.
Wondering if social media is part of the problem? The answer is, unequivocally, yes.
From the global impact of world events to selfies of their friends doing mundane tasks like brushing their teeth, kids are constantly being bombarded with information on both a macro and micro level.
It can be too much for anyone, but especially for a teen. While we need to accept this reality, we also need to learn to set boundaries in our order to bring balance to our lives.
Recognizing when your child is struggling is the first step in being able to help them manage anxiety and behavioral changes at home or school could indicate a problem.
Coping strategies come from the top down, and parents need to emulate the traits they want their teens to exhibit.
How to Cope with Anxiety
Here are my most recommended strategies to help teens learn how to cope with anxiety:
Strategy 1: Be aware of how you deal with stress.
How often do you bring work home and witness its effects on your family time, your presence with your children, and your own anxious tendencies?
There is nothing wrong with working in front of your children and allowing them to see all that goes into a day in the life of an adult. What does matter is how you manage your time and work stress in front of your children. What they observe from their parents can influence their own environmental tendencies.
Be mindful of how you manage your work or home stress and consider how that, in turn, affects the anxious tendencies of your children.
Strategy 2: Encourage your children to own their strengths.
Before you can help your teen recognize their strengths, you must know your strengths and be a role model for them.
Your teen is likely comparing their life to everyone else’s perfect life on Instagram, which we know is a carefully-curated illusion. To counteract this, ask them what they like about themselves. What is great about their life, their talents, their family?
Show your kids what it looks like to own your strengths and talents. It’s not bragging to know who you are. Bragging is claiming you are better than someone else with the intention of causing someone to feel inferior.
Owning your strengths is an exercise in self-esteem. Encourage your teens to find the good in themselves and develop their own standards so they are less likely to judge themselves by someone else’s standards. This foundation of knowing and owning one’s strengths contributes to a house of happiness that they are designing room by room as they grow.
Strategy 3: Teach them to find a healthy balance.
When you notice your teen getting worked up or when you sense their emotional thermometer rising, you need to guide them to higher ground. Let them know that all they are truly responsible for is today.
Ask them what has to be done today? What is within their control today? Studying for a test? Then yes, do that. Going to the gym in order to stay healthy or to practice in order to be a part of a team? Then yes, show up and stick to what they said they would do. Set a boundary as to what has to be done today in order to achieve a healthy and balanced life.
It may help to relate this to yourself and your day to day activities. For example, maybe you had an extraordinary amount of emails you needed to respond to on a particular day, but it was just as important to you to walk the dog and make a healthy dinner where everyone could sit together and talk about the day. Explain how, instead of addressing all 50 emails, you responded to 25 and put the others off until tomorrow.
Explain to your teen that it’s key to embrace the idea of having a choice—you knew you wouldn’t be easy to be around, or present for others, if you let your daily tasks own you instead of you owning your tasks.
Knowing When to Intervene
Once you have established the source of your teen’s anxiety, you can then offer them the above strategies to keep in their tool bag as they develop. Don’t worry if they don’t apply the tools right away—they’re still listening. More importantly though, they’re watching how you handle your anxiety. How you manage it is what makes the difference in having it spiral out of control or being a manageable part of your life.